Friday, March 16, 2012

The Evolution of the Bunny by Sheralyn Barnes

I loved Fred’s post last week.

 I think he hit the nail on the head about what it takes to be a children's illustrator
and it made me think a lot about my own learning curve on becoming a children’s illustrator over the last two years. So I thought I'd touch upon some of his points...the ones about attending conferences, learning as much as you can, and being open and relaxed to what comes your way.
 I find myself constantly trying to convince fellow writers and illustrators who truly want to publish children’s books to take the plunge and go to not only the regional SCBWI conferences, but also either the New York or LA ones if they can. To attend one of the larger conferences is a pretty big financial commitment, so it’s understandable why people hesitate. I still find it hard to believe that I ignored my doubts and dire financial situation and went to my first New York conference back in 2010 . But I did, and it is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Since that time I have
 attended two more conferences in LA, one in Nashville, and one in Minneapolis. As the time to commit to going to the LA conference this year grows nearer, again I find myself doubting whether it is important to go. 

So, to reassure myself, I put together this Bunny Timeline. 

This little furry guy is someone that I've been experimenting with since my first New York conference. I've used him as a gauge for what I've learned in the last two years as I've dedicated myself to becoming a professional children's illustrator. Some of you may recognize the first three images from previous posts. When I look at these illustrations now, I can see how with each conference (and the workshops, keynotes, and critiques that go with them) I have learned so much more about what it really is to illustrate for children. Every conference has been important in giving me new insights as to how to be a better. Not to mention the daily influence, support, and inspiration of the great illustrators that I have met at these conferences. When I attended my first regional conference in 2009, I was naive enough to think I knew what I needed to know to be a good children's illustrator. I thought with a few tips, tricks of the trade, and connections, I’d be working in no time. What I learned is that I had a lot to learn if I truly wanted to be good and get published. I could draw well (my degree is in fine art, not illustration), but I didn’t really understand everything that went into a great illustration...especially aspects of story and character development. Attending conferences has continually given me the inspiration and information I need to make illustrations and children's books that I can be proud of, not to mention given me an incredible community to be a part of.

So here is the set up for this first page scene:

A bunny is anxiously awaiting a mouse friend to go find shelter in a barn
as an impending snow storm looms large and threatens their very existence!!!

Rabbit 2010

Here, I found reference photos of wild rabbits (since he was wild right?)
I added a snowy background.
  I thought his looking off into the distance would build intrigue.
What I've learned since:
Wild scrawny, mangy looking rabbits are not necessarily instantly lovable, 
even if they are decently rendered.
I LOVED my rendering of the front paws here.
 I was so in love with their artistic nature that I neglected to
 really assess whether the overall image told a story or was endearing to the reader.
There is absolutely no sense of alarm here.
I was just learning to paint on the computer and this is my
 first real image done entirely digitally.
 I was still using a mouse to draw on the computer. Egads.
 I bought a Wacom tablet and watched many tutorials
 on painting in Photoshop after completing this image.

Rabbit 2011
Which brings us to here..... 
after about 4 months spent learning how to paint in Photoshop.
 I decided that my rabbit needed to be less mangy and skittish looking.
 I also discovered that my obsessive nature of wanting to make things
 look real exploded with the endless ability of the computer to detail things.
And of course...looking back, I obviously still hadn't caught on to giving
 this guy any sense of alarm.
I was very proud of this piece when I showed it to Dan Santat in a critique in LA. 
Dan replied that it was a very nice "portrait" of a rabbit.
 What it wasn't was an illustration that told a story. 
WOW. Big light bulb over head moment there.

Rabbit sketch fall 2011 (post Dan Santat critique)
This critique with Dan became the subject of one of my posts 
here at Pixel Shavings and this is the sketch that I made following it. 
I realized that I tended to make my characters very stoic. 
And decided that as an illustrator I needed to work on 
creating more emotion and to develop more of a story in my scenes.
 I could draw well enough, what I needed to work at was a becoming a better actor and director.
I remember starting to think of my characters in these terms: 
Would I hire them for the role in a casting call?
What qualities would I look for if I were holding an audition?

Bunny 2012
Which brings us to the present.
After taking the time to watch and re-watch Will Terry's great videos,
 and taking in more great insights from the posts of my fellow Pixel Shaving's buddies,
 I began to work on my character design.
 I didn't want this to be a "rabbit". He's a bunny. HE is the LOVABLE character in the story.
 I needed to make him instantly endearing from the start.
 I upped my cuteness factor and this is where I ended up.
 I also warmed him up a bit color-wise, with hopes that it would help the reader warm
 up to him as well.
 I added a hint of the story in the illustration, rather than just a background of snow.
Thus ends my bunny evolution. Time to move on to other things.
 I'm sure that a year from now I will have an entirely new perspective on it all.
 And that is great.
That is why I will be taking the plunge for another conference this year. 
It just gets better and better all the time!

Thanks for checking in!

Sheralyn Barnes


  1. I LOVE this progression, and walking through the months with you! There truly is a significant difference it what you communicate in the first and last pictures! Thank you for this bunny evolution. And I am wondering on your decision about LASCBWI12? :-)

    1. Thanks Joanna! It was a bit daunting to even post this, but incredibly eye-opening to me! Are YOU going to LA? I'm planning on it. Again my bank account is whimpering at the prospect, but seriously when I look at this post, I see so much value in it....and FUN!

  2. Sheri - the distance you have come digitally is amazing. Your hand done work was already stellar, but the work you have put in is inspiring. I am proud to have started this journey with you.

    1. Thanks Hazel! I'm happy to have you as my friend (and chief navigator) on this trip! I feel very lucky to be walking down the same road with you!

  3. Sheralyn, The change is dramatic and inspiring. I have a BFA in Toy Design and spent months designing and building plush prototypes of characters. The hope was always that a child would want to grab it off the shelf and give it a huge cuddle - believe that it needed that cuddle. You have achieved that in your last illustration. The choice of yellows and reds warms the bunny up and he looks afraid or worried in his eyes. Well done.

    1. Thanks Alison! Your comments make me especially happy since my many stuffed animals were my first inspiration to want to draw as a child. I really appreciate your insights!

  4. I want to add one thing that I didn't say in this post and wish that I had. I would have never attended my first NY conference in 2010 if it weren't for the encouragement and support (both financially and mentally) of my husband Brian and my very dear friend Jude Rathburn. It takes a lot of persistence to continually believe in yourself in this business, and I'm very lucky to have the support of both these dear people, and the incredible people I've met along the way.

    1. Thanks for acknowledging the encouragement that Brian and I have given over the years. I am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes all of us. Hang in there and let me know if you need another nudge to make it to LA.

  5. Sheralyn -

    I concur with others who have already commented on the fabulous progress you have made - I am so very proud of you for your dedication and persistence in this journey. Keep up the great work!